There is probably no more famous villain in all of Texas lore than that of Generalissimo Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , otherwise simply historically known as SANTA ANNA. Yes, THAT guy. The one that killed all the soldiers at the Alamo. Hated by the entire population of Texas (and most of the world), we certainly won’t put him into the honored role of BADASS, but when you actually review the guy’s life and history, the sheer freaking determination that he demonstrated certainly deserves a tip of the hat. But that’s all he deserves.
Born in 1794 at a time when Spain was still ruling Mexico as a colony, Santa Anna joined the Army at the age of 16. He fought with the Veracruz Infantry Regiment, and battled a brutal war against Native American uprisings and the guerilla beginnings of what would become the Mexican Revolution. Riding the countryside under the famously-brutal Spanish officer Joaquín de Arredondo, Santa Anna quickly proved himself as a hardcore pipe-hittin’ badass. He took an arrow to the arm in 1811, and was cited for bravery at the Battle of Medina in 1813, when Colonel Santa Anna rode down a force of Texas and Mexican rebels, killing 1300 of the enemy while only losing 55 of his own men.
Santa Anna fought hard and brutal battles alongside the Royalist Spanish government in the early days of the Mexican War of Independence, but as the war progressed Santa Anna changed his mind and threw his military support behind a rebel named Agustín de Iturbide. Winning many battles against the Spanish Royalists, Santa Anna helped win Mexican Independence and drive the Spanish out of the country. Then, when Iturbide turned out to be a douchebag, Santa Anna changed sides again, joined a rebel group, and overthrew Iturbide in 1823. Then in 1828 he fought a war that overthrew that guy as well.
It didn’t take Santa Anna long to earn a reputation for being a hardcore warrior you didn’t want to mess with, but also who you really couldn’t trust not to shank you in the ass the moment the war started turning bad against you.
In 1829, the Spanish King came back to Mexico, pissed off that he had lost Mexico and determined to get it back. At the Battle of Tampico in 1829, Santa Anna led a group of resistance fighters, kicked the King’s ass (again) and earned himself so much fame and glory that was elected President of Mexico in 1933.
Bored with the day to day duties of the Presidency, Santa Anna pretty much gave control of the government to his Vice President and proceeded to spend his days gambling on cockfights and fathering a ton of illegitimate children. But then when his VP pissed off most of Mexico with his stupid decisions, Santa Anna rounded up a bunch of his friends and launched a coup against his own government, overthrowing the VP. Yes, he overthrew his OWN presidency.
In 1836, Texas got sick of the political instability in Mexico (which Texas was part) and launched a revolution. This really, really pissed off Santa Anna and he declared that all Texas rebels would be treated as pirates and murderers and would not be treated as soldiers. He marched his men across Texas and left a smoking crater of burned crops, dead livestock, and brutally executed prisoners in his path. He then murdered all the POWs at the Goliad Massacre and proceeded to the Alamo, where we all know what happened there.
In the end, this did the worst thing imaginable, as it enraged an already pissed off Texas population, and at the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna got his ass kicked so hard that “Don’t Mess With Texas” became part of our vernacular. Sam Houston beat the hell out of the entire Mexican army at the cost of just 11 Texas lives. Ouch.
Always a bit of a prick, Santa Anna was hauled in front of Sam Houston, stood tall and said “Sir, yours is no common destiny, for you have captured the Napoleon of the West.”
Sam Houston sent him to Washington to negotiate a peace treaty, which he did, without consulting the Mexican Congress. From there, he was tossed out of the country, only to return to Mexico and find out that he had been deposed and exiled from Mexico. However, he was called back a few months later to put down a rebellion in state Zacetetas. Santa Anna showed up with his army, told the people he would like to negotiate with them. When they opened the gates to talk, he killed everyone and burned the whole damn town down. This got him exiled again.
Back from retirement a year later because the French were now messing around with Mexico in Vera Cruz. Santa Anna led his forces into battle and was so close to the front that his horse was shot and killed. So he grabbed a different horse and was hit with a cannon shot that blew his leg off. He would wear a prosthetic the rest of his days, and actually paraded his blown-off leg around town for all to see in 1841. But sure enough, the French gave up (don’t they always?) and Santa Anna was named DICTATOR of Mexico.
Oblivious one hell of a fighter, Santa Anna sucked at politics. So he was voted out in 1839, reelected in 1841, and then thrown out of the country again in 1845.
Santa Anna was smoking cigars in Cuba when in 1848 he heard the news that war was brewing again between the US and Mexico. Santa Anna goes to Washington, offers President Polk his peace treaty efforts, and Polk sends him back to Mexico to broker peace. Santa Anna goes back to Mexico, is given full control of the Mexican Army and prepped to not broker peace, but instead, to engage the entire US in war.
Well, Santa Anna got his ass kicked big time. He lost so hard that the 4th Illinois Infantry took his prosthetic leg, and it’s still on display at the State Military Museum in Illinois.
Embarassed, Mexico exiled him…again. But, it shouldn’t surprise you that he was brought back to Mexico and was elected President of Mexico for the 11th damn time. This reign lasted until 1855, when he finally pissed off Mexico enough when he sold New Mexico and Arizona to the US to pay off some of his old debts. They tossed him to Jamaica, but sure enough, he spent the rest of his days trying to earn his 12th Presidency, unsuccessfully.
As a silly sidenote, while Santa Anna was in Staten Island, he met a guy named Thomas Adams. Adams asked Santa Anna what he was chewing on, and he explained that it was a substance called “chicle”, derived from the Mexican sapodilla tree. Adams bought some of the stuff from Santa Anna, added sweetener to it, called it Chiclets, and made a boatload of cash. He later teamed up with William Wrigley, Jr and created the world’s largest gum company. This might be the only GOOD thing Santa Anna ever did for the US.
Despite being a complete ass and ruling the country with an iron fist, losing several wars, double crossing countless people, and being a brutal murdering psycho, Santa Anna was finally pardoned by Mexico in 1874 and allowed to return. An old man, mostly blind from cataracts, Santa Anna died in 1876 and was given a full military burial in a glass coffin – a high honor.
There you have it – the full history of Texas’ most notorious villain, who earned every bit of his reputation as being the most hated man in all of Mexico (according to every Texan). However, as things always seem to work, without a Santa Anna, our Texas might look a lot different and be substantially less BADASS than it is.